Blog

  1. 5 Exercises for Improving Balance & Preventing Falls

    When we’re young, falls are treated as teaching opportunities. “Get back on your feet, brush yourself off and keep moving toward your goals,” we were told.

    But as we age, falls take on a much greater significance. When someone of advanced age falls, they tend to suffer greater distress to their health as well as their pocketbooks.

    In other words, a fall can greatly impact a senior’s ability to live an active, healthful and independent life. In fact, where older adults are concerned, a fall can have a spiraling effect on their overall quality of life during years typically set aside for much-deserved rest, relaxation and fun.

    Unfortunately, though, falls are an epidemic among seniors in the U.S.

    The Fall Epidemic

    According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated for a fall in a U.S. emergency room every 11 seconds, making it the most common cause for nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among this group.

    In addition, the average health care cost for each of these falls is approximately $35,000 per patient.

    Older bodies are simply more susceptible to serious injury when falls occur. And, while there are some things seniors can do to keep their bonds strong and flexible enough to better absorb a fall, the best course of action is to just prevent falls from happening to begin with.

    This starts with improving balance.

    Balance Exercises

    Like strength and cardiovascular conditioning, balance is something that can and should be improved through regular exercise. With this in mind, try these five exercises to help improve your balance:

    Standing March: As the name says, march in place for up to 30 seconds, slowly raising and lowering your knees throughout. Vary the surface on which you march (i.e., hard floor to the back yard) for more of a challenge.

    Heel to Toe: Starting with both heels touching the wall, put one foot in front of the other so the heel touches the toes of the opposite foot. Repeat with the other foot, as if you’re walking a chalk line. Go for 20 steps each round.

    Weight Shifts: With your feet hip-width apart, shift your weight to one side, lifting your other foot off the floor just a few inches. Hold this pose for up to 30 seconds, then shift and hold on the other leg. Increase reps per your ability.

    Single-Leg Balance: Starting with the same stance as above, now left one leg from the floor, banding it back at the knee. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then do the same with the other leg. Increase reps as your balance improves.

    Tai Chi/Yoga: If you feel your balance is strong and you’ve mastered the above exercises, trying a group Tai Chi or yoga class. Such classes are ideal for exercising balance by strengthening your body and core.

    Safety & Physical Therapy

    If you’re new to any of these exercises, help balance yourself initially by leaning on a table, chair back or wall for safety’s sake. Also, make these simple exercises part of your daily routine.

    And, if you’re a senior or soon-to-be senior who doesn’t currently exercise regularly, it’s smart to start any new fall-prevention effort by first getting a balance assessment from a physical therapist.

    Through a balance assessment, a physical therapist can determine your level of functional balance while pinpointing areas of concern that can be addressed through an individualized fall-prevention regimen.

  2. To Stretch or Not to Stretch? Tips for Optimizing Flexibility

    Many have grown up with the understanding that, whenever you’re about to work out, compete or otherwise push your body, it’s important to stretch immediately before the activity in order to prevent injury and perform your best.

    Yet, despite these long-held beliefs – and perhaps surprisingly – there’s little evidence to support this theory.

    Today’s evidence suggests that there’s no connection between injury prevention and stretching – static, or reach-and-hold-type stretching – before a workout. Performance-wise, there’s also no consistent connection, with some studies even suggestions that stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.

    For example, research released by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2011 found that the vertical jump heights of young and middle-aged men actually declined when participants stretched beforehand. In contrast, the same study found heights increased after warming up dynamically, or using dynamic stretching.

    Dynamic stretches can best be described as a lower-intensity version of the exercises and movements you plan to perform during your activities or while you’re competing.

    A light jog, some leg swings, lunges, high-knees, arm and shoulder rotations … all these movements can be part of a dynamic stretching routine, depending on the activity you’re about to do.

    Such dynamic warm-ups help you break a sweat, sure, but it does so much more. It ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, promoting optimal flexibility and efficiency.

    Dynamic stretching, however, can only optimize your current level of flexibility. Static stretching is still vital in maintaining and improving your body’s level of overall flexibility … just not right before an activity.

    So, when’s the ideal time to maintain and improve flexibility through static stretching? Consider the following guidelines:

    Stretch Daily: Just as you should try to get a certain amount of exercise in each day – both cardio and strength training – it’s also important to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to daily static stretching. Typical static stretches are held for anywhere between 15 to 60 seconds at a time, with each movement repeated two or more times.

    Experts suggest setting time aside for stretching either first-thing in the morning or just before going to bed.

    Stretch During Cool-Downs: Cooling down after an activity helps the body transition from a higher intensity to a resting or near-resting state. While slowed-down exercises (similar to those during dynamic warm-ups) may be included as part of a cool-down, this is also a great time for static stretching.

    As consistent tightness in the muscles and joints can put one more at risk of pain and injury, those who regularly exercise or compete have an annual physical therapy exam. During a PT exam, weaknesses in flexibility, strength and movement can be identified and properly addressed before they manifest into injuries.

  3. 6 Common Back Pain Myths, Debunked

    Despite being one of the top causes of disability in the U.S., affecting around eight in 10 people in their lifetimes, back pain is an ailment often misunderstood by those affected.

    Such misconceptions can cause those suffering from back pain to seek solutions, potential treatment paths, and even lifestyle alterations that aren’t necessarily in their best interests.

    Back pain can be as frustrating as it is debilitating, especially if past preventative measures and treatments haven’t been helpful. And, this can lead a person down paths that don’t result in the best and most necessary evidence-based treatments.

    These paths can sometimes lead to treatments that are more expensive or personally invasive – and perhaps even unnecessary – such as MRIs and surgery.

    MRIs, shots, surgery, medication, etc., should mostly be considered last resort-type solutions. The fact is, most back pain issues will go away on their own in a few days. And even when they don’t, most remaining cases can be successfully resolved through safer, more affordable and more effective treatment approaches.

    To help health care consumers make better decisions when considering solutions to their back-pain issues, we’d like to shed some light on the following common back pain myths:

    1. Bed Rest Helps with Relief & Healing: Once a common treatment for back pain, research strongly suggests long-term rest can slow recovery and even make your back pain worse. Instead, treatment involving movement and exercise (i.e., stretches, walking, swimming, etc.) often works better to hasten healing and provide relief.

    2. The Problem’s in My Spine: Back pain can be caused by a wide array of issues throughout the body as well as one’s environment. It can be a response to the way you move when you exercise, how you sit at work, the shoes you wear, the mattress on which you sleep, or simply your body compensating for movement limitations and weaknesses. Back pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “bad back,” or are predisposed to back pain.

    3. I Just Need an ‘Adjustment’: Those accustomed to visiting a chiropractor for back pain issues often claim to find relief from having their spine adjusted, or “cracked.” While this process can release endorphins that offer some temporary relief, only about 10 percent of all back pain cases can actually benefit from spine mobilization. Exercise is often more effective, as is determining and treating the pain’s source. (See item No. 2.)

    4. Medication’s the Answer: A popular quick fix, medication should never be viewed as a long-term solution to chronic back pain issues. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help get you through in the short term, but many prescription pain meds can be dangerous, addictive, and even make the pain worse in some instances.

    5. I’ll Probably Need Surgery: Of people experiencing low-back pain, only about 4 to 8 percent of their conditions can and should be successfully treated with surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even 90-plus percent of herniated discs often get better on their own through a combination of rest and physical therapy.

    6. I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist: Multiple studies have concluded that physical therapy is one of the safest and most effective ways to both treat and prevent back pain. And in nearly every state, patients can access physical therapy services without first getting a physician’s prescription.

  4. 7 Fitness Tips for Summer Vacation Travel

    It’s vacation season, and for many that means visiting faraway friends, exploring new places and possibly even crossing some things of the ol’ bucket list.

    Unfortunately, traveling often also means lots of sitting, interrupted sleep patterns due to time zone changes, unhealthy eating, and workout routines that are sporadic, if not nonexistent.

    But, travel doesn’t have to be synonymous with unhealthy habits and a lack of exercise. Vacations are a time to reboot mentally while reconnecting with friends and family, but this doesn’t have to happen at the expense of your health.

    With just a little forethought and planning, you can stay active and healthy throughout your trip, whether it lasts a few days or a few weeks.”

    So, for the purpose of planning, here are seven tips for staying fit and healthy while traveling:

    Plan Around an Activity: Don’t just plan your vacation around a place. Consider making one or a series of activities central to your agenda. For instance, plan to go on some hiking tours, try snorkeling for the first time, or make vacation a family camping trip.

    Keep Moving En Route: Whether you’re flying or driving, you’re going to likely do a lot of sitting and waiting during the front and back ends of your trip. So, capitalize on breaks in your trip to go for short walks, do some stretching, or warm the body through some dynamic exercises (i.e., lunges, light jogging, arm/leg swings, etc.)

    Explore on Foot/Bike: Once you’re at your new destination, resolve to explore the area on foot, either by jogging a new route each morning or taking regular walking tours of the area. Or, see the sites from the seat of a rented bike.

    Strength Train Using Body Weight: Even though you’re likely to be in an unfamiliar place with little to no gym access, don’t let that keep you from strength training. Whether in your hotel room or at a local park, your body weight provides ideal resistance while doing lunges, dips, push-ups, planks, and so on.

    Stay Hydrated: When you’re out of your element and distracted by new people and places, hydration habits can go awry. Carry a reusable water bottle with you at all times as a reminder to hydrate continually throughout the day, and consume sugary and/or alcoholic drinks in moderation.

    Mind Your Diet: A disrupted or inconsistent schedule, coupled with a desire to try the local cuisine, can cause your good eating habits to go out the window. Continue to try new things, but do so with a plan. If you’re expecting a big dinner out one night, eat a lighter, healthier meal earlier in the day … and vice versa.

    Don’t Skimp on Sleep: While you may be tempted to trade sleep for a few more hours of sightseeing and new experiences, it’s not a trade worth making. Getting a good night’s sleep while on vacation will keep you more alert and active while improving the overall experience of your trip.

    And as you’re planning your trip, if you have any movement, discomfort or pain concerns that you feel may keep you from having a fun, relaxing time, visit a physical therapist before heading out.

    After a full assessment of the issue, a physical therapist can provide you with some treatment options and travel and/or exercise tips that can help you maximize your vacation’s enjoyment.

  5. Tips for Reducing, Managing Plantar Fasciitis Pain

    Studies show about three-quarters of all Americans will experience foot pain at some point in their lives. Of them, more than 2 million people who seek treatment each year will learn they suffer from an overuse condition called plantar fasciitis.

    Fortunately, most cases of plantar fasciitis are both manageable and treatable.

    Plantar fasciitis will typically present itself as sharp pain in the heel or in the arch of the foot, most often when you’re taking the first steps of the day. The pain is the result of your plantar fascia – the thick band of tissue connecting your heel to the ball of your foot – becoming inflamed due to overuse.

    The inflammation that causes plantar fasciitis can come from a sudden increase in activity levels (i.e., walking or running much longer distances) or from sports-related activities that require a lot of running and jumping. Other causes may include a lot of standing, walking or running on hard surfaces, not wearing shoes that properly support your foot type, or being overweight.

    It’s estimated plantar fasciitis affects about 10 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, with most being diagnosed after the age of 40.

    Plantar fasciitis pain may come and go for some without treatment, but we never recommend ignoring pain as this is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Fortunately, there are some things you can do at home to help relieve the discomfort and hopefully keep the condition from getting worse.

    Tips for the at-home management of plantar fasciitis include:

    Rest: As with any overuse injury, rest is a key component of recovery. Decrease your distances when walking or running, and try to avoid hard surfaces.

    Stretching: Stretch the soles of your feet by gently pulling your big toe back toward your ankle and holding for 10 seconds at a time. Also, wrap a towel around the ball of your foot and, from a seated position with your heel to the floor, slowly pull your toes toward you, stretching the arch of your foot. As tight calves may also make you more susceptible to plantar fasciitis, regular calf stretches are a must.

    Massage: A tennis ball can do wonders as a massaging tool. Roll a tennis ball under the sole of your foot, applying weight as comfort allows. Rolling your foot over a frozen plastic water bottle can also work, with the added benefit of helping decrease pain and inflammation.

    Foot Support: When standing for long periods of time, stand on a thick, padded mat. And don’t take your shoes for granted. Make sure they offer good arch support and that you replace them immediately as the shock absorption begins to wear down.

    If pain persists, however, a more individualized treatment plan from a physical therapist is likely needed. A physical therapist can pinpoint the most likely triggers of your plantar fasciitis pain, then customize a treatment regimen that may include flexibility and strength exercises, footwear recommendations and/or custom shoe inserts, and the possible use of taping or splints to help maintain optimal ankle and toe positions.

  6. Tips for Keeping the Weekend Warrior Healthy, Injury Free

    A “weekend warrior” is someone who, due to the hectic nature of a typical workweek, opts to cram most of her or his exercise into weekend workouts, activities, games and/or competitions.

    And while most physical therapists would never fault anyone for getting exercise, most would also agree that weekend warriors should be particularly cautious as the sporadic nature of their workout schedule puts them at a greater risk of getting injured.

    Days of downtime followed by sudden bursts of activity over a day or two isn’t ideal, after all. By putting greater stress on the body over a shorter period of time, weekend warriors should be aware that they’re putting themselves at greater risk of acute injuries, such as strains, sprains or worse.

    That’s because inactivity throughout the week can lead to a general deconditioning of the body that may include muscle tightness and imbalances, along with reduced endurance and cardiovascular fitness. A more consistent workout schedule can combat such deconditioning.

    But if one truly does struggle to find time to achieve their expert-recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week without cramming them into just a couple of days, we offer to following tips for avoiding injury.

    Space It Out – Rather than packing your weekly exercise minutes into two back-to-back days at the end of the week, consider spacing these days out. This can help you avoid some of the deconditioning effects mentioned above.

    Warm Up, Cool Down – When the weekend arrives and it comes time to take the field, hit the trails or tee off for 18, always warm up first. Take 5 to 10 minutes for some light resistance and cardio exercises to get the blood flowing. And after you’re done, cool down with some stretching. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout.

    Temper Your Intensity – When you’re packing your workouts into just a couple days a week, don’t overdo it. As you’re not exercising as consistently, stay on the safe side by pulling back slightly on your intensity.

    Mix It Up – Try not to fill your weekends with the same activities. Mix it up, perhaps focusing on cardio one weekend and strength another – or a variation thereof. This helps ensure your entire body remains balanced, reducing your chances of injury.

    Stay Active During the Week – Even if you don’t have time to hit the gym during the week, don’t use that as an excuse to be completely sedentary. Capitalize on brief moments during the week to move around, stretch, and maybe even do some exercising. Take the stairs, stretch during your breaks, stand at your desk, walk during meetings or after work, and maybe even fit 10 minutes of at-home resistance training into your evenings.

    Listen to Your Body – Always know your limits. And, if you feel aches and pains or suspect possible injury, stop exercising immediately and see a medical professional, such as a physical therapist. Don’t try to power through discomfort just so you can get through the weekend.